The Briefing 01-13-15

The Briefing 01-13-15

The Briefing


January 13, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

  It’s Tuesday, January 13, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 1) Paris killings sparks awareness of poor status of free speech in mainstream Islam In the aftermath of the horrifying killings last week in Paris, the world has responded – at least in terms of the Western elites – with a very ineffectual response; failing to come to terms in the main with the challenge of Islamic terrorism. But there at least has now begun a very interesting conversation. A part of that conversation spilled over into the pages of USA Today yesterday when a column by Robert C. Blitt made abundantly clear the fact that what the West is facing is not just an argument that is coming from Islamic extremists but from some very central Islamic sources – including close American allies.   As he writes,   “Many have taken false comfort in blaming the cold-blooded attack of Charlie Hebdo on the fanatical action of a small minority of Muslims. But attributing the horror perpetrated in Paris to a band of Salafist radicals alone betrays a willful blindness to a longstanding campaign by broad-based Islamic groups to silence those they consider”   Blitt is an attorney; he has been a very prominent advisor to the United States Commission on International Religious Liberty. He writes, and I quote,   “The Islamic State and al-Qaeda are by no means the most powerful purveyors of the destructive idea that Islam demands unqualified protection against perceived insult. In the aftermath of the Paris attack, reputable Muslim groups around the world have denounced the violence, but important bodies such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab League, as well as many of the individual states comprising these groups, must bear responsibility for nurturing an environment that breeds violence in the name of defending Islam.”   Blitt goes on to make his case in a very convincing fashion – indeed it’s not only convincing, it’s downright chilling. He tells us that the OIC includes member states that range from US allies, including Jordan, to adversaries including the nation of Iran. The group describes itself, he says, as the world’s largest international body coming in second only to the United Nations. It calls itself the collective voice of the Muslim world and as he says, it has enshrined in its own charter the central goal of eliminating what it calls “defamation of Islam.”   Now keep in mind that this group includes the nation of Jordan, one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East as one of its members. Add to this a very important news article that also appeared in yesterday’s edition of USA Today, it’s by reporter Kim Hjelmgaard. The article cites several Muslims in Paris to the effect that even though they regret the attacks that took place in their city by members of their own faith – for example he cites Nicole Lefrans, age 55, identified as the caretaker of one of the grim concrete apartment buildings that dominate one of these Muslim neighborhoods in Paris, who said,   "They shouldn't have done it, and I never ran into them, but this whole episode has really disturbed me. I fear for what comes next for France."   That’s not so troubling, but then consider the next statement. It’s by a man identified only as Aber, an unemployed Muslim in Paris who didn’t want his last name to identify him, who told USA Today,   "I disagree with what the Kouachi brothers did, and with their ideas. But I also feel that freedom of speech can't justify everything and I was hurt when Charlie Hebdo published drawings of the prophet Mohammed."   The use of the term regret in the first statement is hardly a strong moral statement, and in the second statement cited by the reporter what we really have is, as I’ve said, giving on the one hand and taking back on the other. We need also to note that Western elites, including political leaders, have added to this kind of confusion – a very deep moral confusion as well as a theological confusion.   At the head of this list must be placed Pres. Barack Obama. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, speaking to the United Nations in 2012 President Obama said,   “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,”   Speaking of slander against the prophet actually aids those who are making the argument that the prophet’s honor must be defended. And it gives at least some credence to those who make the argument coming from the Islamic world that the prophet’s honor has been slandered. We also need to note that some of America’s very closest allies – not only Jordan but the nation of Saudi Arabia – also see as one of their state responsibilities the punishing of anyone who, in the eyes of that state or Muslim authorities, has slandered Mohammed.   Ben Hubbard reports for the New York Times on January 10 that a prominent Saudi blogger known as Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and to 1,000 lashes with the cane for, as the New York Times reports,   “Starting a website that featured content critical of the country’s religious establishment”   According to the New York Times report the floggings are to be administered with the cane over a period of months at 50 strokes at a time – that’s 20 different public floggings at 50 lashes a time for the public crime of blasphemy or for offending the nation’s religious leadership.   A couple of other quick notices before we leave this issue entirely, one of them comes in an article published yesterday at the Federalist by Larry O’Connor. It asked the question, “Why Does the Mainstream Media call Mohammed ‘The Prophet’?” As he says,   “When the media calls Muhammad a ‘prophet’ they are imparting to him a title that is not based in fact but is a matter of faith. To call Muhammad a ‘prophet,’ don’t you have to believe he was divinely inspired? It is arguable that Muhammad’s status as a prophet is not an objective fact. And the media is supposed to deal in facts, whenever possible”   Larry O’Connor doesn’t argue that Western media authorities are trying to do something to further the Islamic cause. He points instead to some laziness and more than that, political correctness, that puts Islam in a different category than Judaism or Christianity. He makes a very compelling point that news media analyst don’t seem to feel any responsibility to say Jesus the Savior or Jesus the Messiah or, for that matter, Moses the prophet. But when it comes to Mohammed, they bend to Islamic conventions, speaking of Mohammed as the prophet.   But as an example of this kind of political correctness taken to extreme, almost unbelievable links, Terrence McCoy recently reported for the Washington Post and I quote,   “For months, publishing giant HarperCollins has been selling an atlas it says was ‘developed specifically for schools in the Middle East.’ It trumpets the work as providing students an ‘in-depth coverage of the region and its issues.’ Its stated goals include helping kids understand [what the publisher called] the ‘relationship between the social and physical environment, the region’s challenges [and] its socio-economic development.”   But Terrence McCoy says,   “But there’s one problem: Israel is missing”   As he writes,   “There’s Syria. There’s Jordan. There’s Gaza. But no mention of Israel.”   When the situation was exposed in the United States, HarperCollins backtracked. They put out a statement that said,   “HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas,” HarperCollins UK said on its Facebook page. ‘This product has now been removed from sale in all territories and all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologizes for this omission and for any offense it caused.’”   But as you might expect there is more to the story. As the Washington Post reports, Collins Bartholomew, a subsidiary of HarperCollins that specializes in maps, told the newspaper The Tablet that it would’ve been,   “…‘unacceptable’ to include Israel in atlases intended for the Middle East. They had deleted Israel to satisfy ‘local preferences.’”   Those local preferences in the Arab world are that Israel doesn’t exist and so HarperCollins put out an atlas in which Israel didn’t exist. To the credit of the publisher they have withdrawn the Atlas; to its discredit, they withdrew it only after they published it. 2) Controversies involving Episcopal leaders affirms liberalism and Christianity two rival religions Shifting back to the United States and to the denominational scene, a couple of recent articles have demonstrated the death of the chasm that separates evangelical Christianity from more liberal Protestant denominations – in particular the Episcopal Church. One news story that appeared in the January 10 edition of the New York Times had this headline, The Bishop, the Cyclist and a Death on the Road. The reporter Jennifer Steinhauer tells about an Episcopal Bishop from Massachusetts who killed a man riding a bicycle while she was driving drunk according to police authorities and then fled the scene – only later to return. But the story is a great deal more convoluted than that for it turns out that the Episcopal diocese in Massachusetts elected her as a suffragan bishop, that is a second bishop in command, after it was known that she had previously been convicted of drunk driving – egregiously so.   This has led to some speculation, even in liberal Episcopalian circles, that the election of this female Bishop came because the diocese was in a rush to elect a woman as bishop. As Steinhauer tells the story,   “Two days after Christmas, Thomas Palermo took advantage of a rare moment of free time to do what he loved most: ride his bike up a busy road popular with cyclists for its challenging hill and wide bike lanes, the afternoon sun warming his face. About the same time, the police say, an Episcopal bishop got into her car, her blood-alcohol level far above the legal limit, and drove toward him.”   Not long after, Mr. Palermo, age 41, the father of two young children,   “…lay dying in the street, killed, the police say, by the drunken, texting bishop with a history of driving while intoxicated who left the scene, returning only after nearly half an hour.”   The state attorney in Maryland, a woman identified as Marilyn Mosby had filed charges against the Bishop. As Steinhauer reports,   “Ms. Mosby said Bishop Cook, 58, elected last year to the No. 2 position in the diocese despite having pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2010, was found to have a 0.22 blood-alcohol level when brought to the police station after she returned to the crash site. The legal limit in Maryland is 0.08.”   There are so many convoluted issues connected to this very tragic story but the bottom line is that it points to that great chasm that separates evangelical Christianity from liberal Protestantism. Now let’s be clear, evangelical Christians have their own share of moral scandals and moral tragedy. But the moral code is different and that moral code’s difference is made abundantly clear when it becomes evident that this Bishop was elected even after – indeed shortly after – a conviction in 2010 for drunk driving. The diocese said in its own way that it was trying to give this Bishop a second chance.   But a second story related to the same denomination drives the point home even more clearly. Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports for Religion News Service,   “The dean of a flagship Episcopal seminary will step down after a stormy tenure, conflicts with faculty and larger debates over the future of theological education.   The Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale announced her decision not to continue as dean and president of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., when her contract expires at the end of June. Ragsdale is the second-ever female chief and the first lesbian to become leader of an Episcopal seminary.”   The story is very complex, it turns out that this president had lost a vote of confidence in the faculty and eventually her leadership seems to have been undermined by very persistent financial challenges. But as the Washington-based group the Institute on Religion and Democracy pointed out, what is really scandalous in the situation is that this president didn’t lose her job because of her very prominent homosexual advocacy, nor her very open and ardent advocacy for abortion. Indeed she didn’t lose her job because of those things; she probably got her job because of those causes. She eventually lost her job because of financial issues and that was the bottom line.   As Bailey reports,   “Ragsdale has been outspoken in her support of abortion rights, earning the title of ‘the high priestess of abortion’ from critics. She has served on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America and as past chair of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.”   Her theology of universalism was also abundantly clear in the article when Ragsdale is quoted as saying,   “The occasional Jew or Buddhist at EDS does not compromise our mission, it enriches it. [She said,] I don’t subscribe to the ‘we should all be one’ mentality. Our traditions are each unique and got us where we are.”   My point in bringing attention to these two news articles is not particularly to dwell upon the Episcopal Church but instead to make the point that was graphically made, very accurately made, in the early decades of the 20th century by Presbyterian theologian and Bible scholar, J. Gresham Machen when Machen pointed out in his book, Christianity and Liberalism, that when you’re dealing with orthodox Christianity and Protestant Liberalism we are not dealing with two variants of the same religion. As Machen correctly said, ‘judged by orthodox Christianity, we’re actually looking in this case at two rival religions,’ and these headlines – not to mention the stories behind them – make that point all too evident. 3) Call for increased homeschooling regulation reveals  its importance as counter-revolutionary force There have been so many important news articles in recent days, some of these sidelined by urgencies such as the massacre in Paris. But we need to go back and look at an article that appeared in the Monday, January 5 edition of the New York Times. The front page story is headlined Home Schooling: More Pupils, Less Regulation. Motoko Rich is reporting for the New York Times, reporting from the state of Pennsylvania in particular, indicating that even as the Pennsylvania legislature had loosened regulations on homeschoolers and even as the number of homeschooling families is growing, there is increased pressure from the left and from educational regulators to demand that homeschoolers be required to come under some form of state regulation. Especially, as Rich notes, since much of the nation is now moving towards some form of commonality through the common core standards; themselves we note, quite controversial.   Motoko Rich reports,   “According to the most recent federal statistics available, the number of school-age children who were home-schooled in the United States was close to 1.8 million in 2011-12, up from 1.5 million five years earlier. According to federal data, the highest concentration of home-schooling families are in the South and West, although precise figures are difficult to collect because many states, including Connecticut, Oklahoma and Texas, do not require families to register with either a school district or the state education agency.”   In a key section of the article Motoko Rich writes,   “Home-schooling families point out that studies show their children perform better on academic tests than children in public school — although it can be difficult to draw conclusions from such studies as researchers depend on voluntary participation. Many home-schooled children go on to succeed in college and beyond.”   She then writes,   “Academics who have studied home-schoolers said families and students should be required to meet some minimum criteria. Prof. Robert Kunzman of Indiana University’s School of Education advocates annual or biennial basic literacy and numeracy tests. ‘That will allow us to identify what is probably a pretty small subset of home-school families that are not being well served by it,’”   ‘Well served’ in his view. One of the major points made by the homeschooling parents in this article is that they know their children best. One of the other points made by the parents and homeschool defenders is that if anything those who are running the schools, especially the public schools, are in no position to tell Christian parents, and of course not all homeschoolers are Christians, what they should teach their children and what constitutes an adequate curriculum. We can only imagine what this kind of state regulation would imply. How would parents be judged as to whether or not they are adequate teachers for their children? What would it mean for state regulators to decide what an adequate curriculum is? Not only in terms of educational standards, but of that curricular content – that’s not an extraneous issue.   One of the issues raised in this article is the teaching of intelligent design or creationism. One of the things we need to recognize is that the homeschooling movement in America has been one of the most important achievements of the last half of the 20th century. Homeschooling didn’t begin then, of course, some the most important court victories defending the right of parents to make educational choices for their children go back to important court decisions won by Amish families in the early part of the 20th century. But homeschooling in America really began to take off in the 1970s. One of the interesting historical things to note is that homeschooling, in terms of the recent phenomena, didn’t begin on the conservative right – it began, at least in organized form, on the secular left; in particular on the countercultural left where liberal parents back in the 1960s and 70s didn’t want their children as they said, submitted to a corporate education that was controlled by the government. That concern came from the left and those parents on the left depended on those very same court decisions that were won by the Amish and others in the 20th century.   But of course conservative Christians have become the most numerous homeschoolers, and for understandable reasons. And what we’re looking at now is the fact that homeschooling is one the most important counterrevolutionary forces in American society today. Counterrevolutionary in the sense that it allows Christian parents making this decision for their own families and their own children to push back against some of the trends of the predominant secular educational establishment; the very establishment that wants to regulate homeschooling and wants to gain more control, more regulation, more oversight, over homeschooling families.   This is likely to be an ongoing controversy in issue. It’s not by accident this article appeared on the front page of an edition of the New York Times. Whether you’re a homeschooling family or not this should be on the front lines of your concern as well. 4) Rising trend of eating alone displays shift to absolute individualism in America Finally, an article that tells us a great deal about changes in our culture that may be rather subtle. This is the kind of article that doesn’t scream a headline that is likely to make it into much of the mainstream media in terms of talk show conversation. But it is the kind of article that should have Christian attention and it is an article that got the attention of the Wall Street Journal.   In a recent edition of that paper, columnist Bob Greene wrote, and I quote,   “Among the most significant societal surveys released during the past year was one commissioned by the consumer-research firm NPD Group. Americans, according to the survey, now eat more than half of their meals alone. Table talk can be pretty scant when you’re the only person at the table.”   Table fellowship is of course a very important issue in both the Old and New Testament. A part of what we understand to be the normal human life is the engagement of table fellowship in terms of eating with our families, with our loved ones, or with friends and acquaintances. Jesus got into trouble with the Pharisees of course because he extended table fellowship to public sinners, tax collectors, and the like. But what we have in this article, and in the societal study behind it, is an indication that we are now experiencing something of a sociological regression. We’ve moved from an age of expressive individualism to an age of absolute individualism – right down to the fact, and I still find this a stunning statistic, that more than half of meals that are eaten by Americans are eaten alone.   One of the saddest development behind this is the loss of the family dinner meal, of the family sitting down to dinner together – or at least one meal a day together – in which there can be what Bob Greene calls, convivial conversation; the kind of conversation that is absolutely essential to the relationships, not only among parents, mom and dad, but between parents and their children. Something absolutely precious, even vital, is lost when half of all meals – no, this article says more than half – of all the meals eaten by Americans are now eaten alone. Dining alone become something of a parable of our times and make no mistake it’s a parable of loss. Bob Greene writes about the fact that even though many people are eating alone, they’re eating with their smart phone. But the smart phone is not a replacement for human relationships and it’s a very sad thing that an article like this appears with that as the background fact. The fact, that is, that Americans are replacing having meals with a human being with having a meal with their smart phone. As I said, this is a parable, it’s a parable of loss.   Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’m speaking to you from West Palm Beach, Florida and I’ll meet you tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Paris killings sparks awareness of poor status of free speech in mainstream Islam

Defending Islam from free speech, USA Today (Robert C. Blitt)

Terror attack sparks fears among French Muslims, USA Today (Kim Hjelmgaard)

Obama, Biden Absent From Paris Solidarity March, Wall Street Journal (Carol E. Lee)

Saudis Begin Public Caning to Punish a Blogger, New York Times (Ben Hubbard)

Why Does The Mainstream Media Call Muhammad ‘The Prophet’?, The Federalist (Larry O’Connor)

HarperCollins omits Israel from maps for Mideast schools, citing ‘local preferences’, Washington Post (Terrence McCoy)

2) Controversies involving Episcopal leaders affirms liberalism and Christianity two rival religions

The Bishop, the Cyclist and a Death on the Road, New York Times (Jennifer Steinhauer)

Controversial Episcopal seminary dean Katherine Hancock Ragsdale to step down, Religion News Service (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)

3) Call for increased homeschooling regulation reveals  its importance as counter-revolutionary force

Home Schooling: More Pupils, Less Regulation, New York Times (Motoko Rich)

4) Rising trend of eating alone displays shift to absolute individualism in America

Dining Solo in the Age of the Smartphone, Wall Street Journal (Bob Greene)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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